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David Annandale -- Night Table Recommendations

Friday, Mar 11, 2011 at 3:05pm

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW Books)

On my night table at the moment is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. It's the first installment of The Kingkiller Chronicles, with the second book of the fantasy trilogy due out in August. The protagonist is Kvothe (pronounced "Quothe"), and we first meet him as the owner of a middle-of-nowhere tavern. He is, it transpires, a legend, trying to live out his days quietly. Tracked down by a historian, he reluctantly agrees to tell his story, and the bulk of the novel then consists of his narration, beginning with his childhood as part of family of travelling players, and moving to his life at University, now a student Arcanist of precocious talent.

My bare-bones synopsis here cannot possibly do justice to the richness of Rothfuss' novel. His world-building is meticulous, with every detail in place, from the monetary system to the names of the days of the ten-day week, and he unveils this bustling, living, breathing world so naturally to the reader that one's first encounter with it feels like a journey home. His prose, meanwhile, is elegant and literate without being pretentious, and his storytelling moving and grave without forgetting to be funny. The book is a triumph, and the wait for the next two volumes is going to be a long one.

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Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (TOR Books)

When I was 12, I was browsing through the Science Fiction aisle of an Edinburgh bookstore and happened upon Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Inferno. That book turned out to be a formative reading experience. I loved that book, reading it so many times in the course of the year that followed that, to this day, I have entire passages memorized. The hero is Allen Carpenter, a science fiction writer who dies and finds himself in a Hell that precisely follows Dante's geography, with a few modifications thrown in to keep up with the evolving nature of sin. Unwilling, at first, to believe this is the Real Deal, he convinces himself he's woken up in some sort of ghastly, technologically awe-inspiring theme park. Playing Virgil to Carpenter's Dante is Benito Mussolini, and the two work their way down through the circles of Hell towards the hope of escape. The book ends with Carpenter deciding to stay for a while longer, seeking answers to his questions about how eternal punishment can in any way be just.

Large theological issues aside, the book was also a ripping yarn, and my pre-adolescent self was desperate to know what happened next. So imagine my delight when, thirty years later, Niven and Pournelle provided the answer. Carpenter travels the length and breadth of Hell again, now as much a guide as he is an explorer. His primary companion this time around is Sylvia Plath, rescued from the Wood of Suicides. Niven and Pournelle populate Hell with plenty of historical figures, named or thinly disguised (and as with Dante, not all of them dead at the time of writing), and there's something to rile just about everyone from every political and religious persuasion here. It's also a fast, witty book, and though the authors have provided enough background so new readers won't be lost, a familiarity with the first novel certainly enriches the experience.

Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents by Stephen Thrower (FAB Press)

Stephen Thrower's massive tome isn't going to fit comfortably on anyone's night table. Over 500 pages long, and weighing over five pounds, it might well crush the ill-advised reader who takes it to bed. But I'm putting it on this list anyway, as it is another recent book that has brought me great joy. Like Escape from Hell, it's a bit of a portal to the pleasures of my youthful reading. One of my most cherished books is Denis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a book purchased with my pocket money in Grade 3, subsequently read nearly to tatters, and one that had an incalculable influence on my academic and creative future. Thrower's research and interviews are so extensive, so exhaustive, that his study of low-budget horror and exploitation films from 1970 to 1985 is certain to be a huge eye-opener for any fan of genre films, no matter how versed in the field said fan might be.

More than an eye-opener, it's a window opener, revealing a vast terrain of forgotten gems. Thrower begins with an excellent historical overview, moves on to about two dozen filmmaker profiles, then wraps up with thorough review of another 118 films. And this is just the first volume! It's a monumental work of film scholarship, but is also a fun, lively read, never dry, always passionate and clear-eyed. All of this is great, but there's also the extra thrill of encountering a book that one knows, beyond any flicker of doubt, is a yardstick, one of those definitive texts that cleaves time in two. When it comes to the horror-exploitation field, there is now before Nightmare USA, and there is after it. That's a hell of an accomplishment, and as a writer, I'd be jealous if, as a reader, I weren't so grateful.


David Annandale is the author of the Jen Blaylock thrillers: Crown Fire, Kornukopia and (most recently) The Valedictorians. His horror fiction has appeared in such anthologies as Dead but Dreaming, Wild Things Live There: The Best of Northern Frights and the forthcoming Dead but Dreaming 2. He also writes about film and video games, and teaches film, literature and creative writing at the University of Manitoba.

Categories: Reviews, Discussions, Authors, SciFi & Fantasy, Winnipeg, Horror, Night Table Recommendations

More articles from books


The Valedictorians

- David Annandale

Trade paperback $16.00
Reader Reward Price: $14.40

Russian arms company Kornukopia is in flames, and the one-woman war machine, Jen Blaylock, is having second thoughts about letting CIA Deputy Director of Operations Joe Chapel live. From his hospital bed in northern Europe, Chapel, self-proclaimed saviour of the USA, plots to kill Blaylock and his former ally, Sam Reed, the president of the United States. To do his all-American duty, he enlists the help of South American dictator General Jorge Quintero. To stop him, Blaylock will have to raise her own army and wage war right to the steps of the Capitol Building. The third episode in the Jen Blaylock series, following Crownfire (Ravenstone 2002) and Kornukopia (Ravenstone 2004), The Valedictorians finds Blaylock torn between her need for retribution and her responsibility to Flanagan, her lover, and the men following her into the breach. Will Blaylock drown in her unquenchable thirst for revenge, or find redemption with all debts paid? As the body count rises and the action explodes off the page, David Annandale's epic action-thriller will have you glued to your seat until the dust finally settles.


- David Annandale

Trade paperback $11.99
Reader Reward Price: $10.79

Jen Blaylock, David Annandale’s Canadian–Forces-soldier-gone -rogue, is back with a new globe-spanning mission, a bigger arsenal and another head-spinning body count.

Don't miss this pulse-pounding sequel to the hit 2002 thriller Crown Fire... or don't miss this oppurtunity to acquaint yourself with Jen Blaylock, Ananndale's tough-as-nails addition to the Canadian literary scene!

Crown Fire

- David Annandale

Trade paperback $10.99
Reader Reward Price: $9.89

When Canadian Forces soldier Jen Blaylock's father -- an investigative
journalist -- and the rest of her family are murdered in an attempt to
cover up illegal arms sales, Blaylock abandons military life to exact
vengence on the multi-national conglomerate she deems responsible. But
bitter revenge soon becomes entwined with uncommon valor as Blaylock and
her man on the inside, Mike Flanagan, struggle to uncover Integrated
Security's conspiracy to trigger global chaos.

The Name of the Wind

- Patrick Rothfuss

Mass market paperback $14.99
Reader Reward Price: $13.49

The originality of Rothfuss's outstanding debut fantasy, the first of a trilogy, lies less in its unnamed imaginary world than in its precise execution. Kvothe ("pronounced nearly the same as 'Quothe' "), the hero and villain of a thousand tales who's presumed dead, lives as the simple proprietor of the Waystone Inn under an assumed name. Prompted by a biographer called Chronicler who realizes his true identity, Kvothe starts to tell his life story. From his upbringing as an actor in his family's traveling troupe of magicians, jugglers and jesters, the Edema Ruh, to feral child on the streets of the vast port city of Tarbean, then his education at "the University," Kvothe is driven by twin imperatives—his desire to learn the higher magic of naming and his need to discover as much as possible about the Chandrian, the demons of legend who murdered his family. As absorbing on a second reading as it is on the first, this is the type of assured, rich first novel most writers can only dream of producing. The fantasy world has a new star.


- Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle

Trade paperback $24.50
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Acclaimed writing pair Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle offer a new twist on Dante's classic tale, Inferno.

After being thrown out the window of his luxury apartment, science fiction writer Allen Carpentier wakes to find himself at the gates of hell. Feeling he's landed in a great opportunity for a book, he attempts to follow Dante's road map. Determined to meet Satan himself, Carpentier treks through the Nine Layers of Hell led by Benito Mussolini, and encounters countless mental and physical tortures. As he struggles to escape, he's taken through new, puzzling, and outlandish versions of sin--recast for the present day.